Cartographies of Cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa

Photo of the Abidjan Cancer Registry. A single storey white building with a blue roof.

Epidemiological efforts to map cancer in sub-Saharan Africa have a long history, playing an important role in how the disease has been imagined in the region. In the late colonial and early postcolonial period, British and French doctors produced small-scale epidemiological maps to advance understandings of cancer aetiology and improve treatment strategies at home. More recently, global surveillance initiatives seeking to rationalise health policy and planning in Africa have generated political atlases of the continent with national cancer burdens. This new project carries out an archival and ethnographic study of these epidemiological efforts to chart malignancy in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 70 years. It takes these cartographies of diseases as its object of study, examining their scientific, political and material conditions of possibility and analysing their influence on cancer imaginaries and healthcare policies in Africa. In doing so, the project aims to draw attention to the crucial role that epidemiological maps have played in the postcolonial history of biomedicine in Africa, while developing an innovative approach to epidemiological surveillance that highlights its socio-technical infrastructure and performative power.

This project is funded through a British Academy Knowledge Frontiers Award and a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. It is a collaboration between my team at King’s College London, Dr Max Parkin at the African Cancer Registry Network, Dr Freddie Bray at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Ms Anne Korir at the Nairobi Cancer Registry at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and Dr Frank Gnahatin at the National Cancer Control Programme at the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene of the Ivory Coast. You can read more about this project at: